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May 31, 2015

Why Republicans Should Give Obama Trade Promotion Authority

  Forbes.com

Republicans don’t trust President Obama.  Can’t fault them for that.  But that distrust is driving many of them to oppose trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation, also known as “fast track.”  That’s the wrong conclusion.  If distrust is the issue, then Republicans should support TPA rather than oppose it.

Most Republicans support free trade and would like to give, as they have done many times in the past, a U.S. president the ability to negotiate a trade agreement with other countries as long as Congress gets an up-or-down vote on the agreement.  That’s what TPA does.

The issue isn’t TPA so much as President I-Have-a-Pen-and-a-Phone, who has repeatedly overstepped his constitutional authority.  Why, Republican reasoning goes, give him another opportunity to abuse his power?

But that reasoning misses an important point: Obama is more likely to go it alone when Congress DOESN’T ACT rather than when it does.

That’s what happened when he decided to give a special legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants.  Obama kept urging Congress to act and when it didn’t—at least not fast enough to please him—he moved forward with his amnesty plan.

Ditto with his environmental agreement with China.  Obama knew he couldn’t get Congress to approve the agreement, so he acted alone and claimed he had the authority to do so.

The president isn’t currently threatening to take unilateral action on the Trans-Pacific Partnership—the current trade agreement at the center of the debate—if Congress doesn’t pass TPA.  But then there’s still a chance TPA will pass.

A second reason for passing TPA is that it sets up exactly the kind of scenario Republicans are demanding on Obama’s treaty with Iran.  Once again Obama has claimed the ability to reach an agreement with Iran that he insists wouldn’t need congressional sign-off.  Only when Republicans mustered enough votes to pass legislation requiring a vote on the agreement—which passed with a veto-proof majority—did Obama acquiesce.

That legislation gives Congress an up-or-down vote on the treaty without amendments.  Republicans saw that legislation as a victory for the rule of law and maintaining the balance of power between Congress and the executive branch.  They should see TPA, which grants essentially the same power, as a similar victory.

A third reason: The agreement may land on the next president’s desk rather than Obama’s.  Parties to the TPP trade agreement hope to conclude it by the end of this year, which would mean Congress would get to vote in the spring of 2016.

But it isn’t at all clear that the negotiators will meet their deadline.   TPP negotiations have been going on for years and, as is usually the case, they have put off some of the most contentious issues until the last.

Thus negotiators may not finish until 2016.  If it’s in the second half of the year, when Washington and the country are focused on the presidential election, a congressional vote will likely be postponed until the new president is in office.

Republicans have reason to believe that new president will be a fellow Republican.  In other words, passing the TPA has a good chance of going to a Republican president instead of Obama.

It’s a fundamental rule of politics: When your opponents are in a circular firing squad, don’t take away their ammunition.

Obama has seldom disappointed his leftist base by embracing the free market—and free trade is free market. Republicans shouldn’t stop him because in this case it’s both good policy and, given the Democratic split, good politics.


 

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